How To “Win” A Parent-Teacher Conference

Winning doesn’t always have to entail banners, championship rings and trophies.  In everyday life we can “win” during meetings with our bosses, hosting a fun family or social gathering or during first impressions with new personal or business acquaintances.

Chip Kelly, now head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles professional football team, popularized the phrase “Win The Day” while coaching at the University of Oregon.  By winning the day, Kelly means that you must concentrate on doing the simple, mundane, but necessary tasks that are required to accomplish the larger, sexier goal.


As a parent, the larger, sexier goal with your children in school is to have them continually learn, grow, mature, graduate, and be ready for college and beyond.

There are boring, responsible tasks though that you must complete daily to help them reach those ultimate goals.

One important task that many parents and teachers are currently preparing for in October are parent-teacher conferences. 

Parent-teacher conferences are one of the few opportunities parents and teachers have to intimately and openly discuss the status, progress and goals for your child.  Conferences can build relationships and open the lines of communication between parents and teachers.

Below are a few suggestions for winning the evening at your upcoming parent-teacher conference.

Prior to the conference:

–  Say Yes

This is the easy one.  While parent-teacher conferences are highly thought of to be voluntary on the part of the parents, they are essential.  Realize the importance of the night and say yes immediately.  Get on the schedule during a time slot that makes sense for you.  Show the teacher that you care about the education of your children and show your children you care about their educational progress.

Megan Grdina, a high school science teacher at Bay Village High School says that teachers pay attention to who shows up.  Grdina noted, “One thing I notice every year is that the parents of all my A students come in.”

Mark Kuhnle, a high school Spanish teacher at Vermilion High School echoed Grdina’s observation: “Often times the parents that don’t necessarily need to come…  they come, while the parents that need to come…  they don’t come.”

Wondering if you need to show up or not?  Show up. By showing up, you’re acknowledging your own importance and role in the learning process.

–  Logistically Plan To Be On Time And Prepared

The general misconception about parent-teacher conferences is that only teachers need to be prepared for the night.  Parents need to be prepared too. Come to the conference with a list or an outline of questions that you’ve had in your mind since the beginning of the school year.  Be prepared to discuss what you as a parent are doing at home to reinforce the learning the child is experiencing during the school day.

In regards to preparation, another important and common-sense aspect of the night is arranging childcare.  If your child is not old enough to be left alone at home, you’ll have to schedule a babysitter or a family member to come over during the conference time slot.  Lastly, be on time.  Most teachers schedule conferences with no breaks, back-to-back throughout the evening.  Be courteous to the teacher and be courteous of other parents who similarly have important discussions planned about their children.

During the conference:

– Listen First

So you’re all prepared with notes and questions.  You’re professionally dressed.  You’re on time.  Now what?

The best thing to do is listen first.  Let the teacher introduce and set the structure for the conference.  You’ll have time to ask your questions and address the things you want to talk about.  You’re in the domain of the teacher and they get to set the ground rules.

– Address The Positives and Negatives

Conferences can highlight areas of strengths and weaknesses of learning for your child.  Every child has both.  While it’s exciting to hear positive feedback about your child, try to not let it turn into a giant praise parade.  Conversely if your child is struggling with many aspects of school, find a positive to also build upon.  Most importantly, be open to and expect constructive criticism.  Have a good attitude about the process.  Don’t be defensive and make excuses for your child.

–  Don’t Ignore The Emotions

It’s easy to get caught up in grades, test scores, and academic assessments.  The measurable and comparable nature of numbers can set parents at ease with the progress and status of the education of their children.  However, school is more than just academic performance.  Teachers get to see how your children interact socially and emotionally with their peers.  Query teachers on if any trouble areas like bullying, depression, anger or disassociation are present and share with the teacher what you observe regarding the emotional well-being of your child at home.


–  Establish The Preferred Communication Method

The biggest threat we all heard in the past in school from teachers went something like, “if you misbehave, I’m going to call your parents.”  In this new digital world however, this is becoming less and less the case.

Most teachers have work e-mail addresses automatically provided by the school district.  More and more teachers are using smart phone apps to link parents to general information about academic or school events.  Some teachers still prefer written notes or regular in-person visits if the student is struggling.  Before ending the conference, be sure to have a good sense about what medium the teacher prefers in regards to ongoing communication between the teacher and parents.

After the conference: 

– Review With Your Child

Honesty is the best policy and while reviewing conference topics with your child, it’s worthwhile to openly confront any issues and develop a game plan for improvement if needed.  Of course, depending on the age of your child and the sensitivity regarding what was discussed, using commonsense and tact is encouraged.  Don’t come home and tell your little Timmy that Mrs. Smith thinks he’s a complete and utter failure.  Discuss ways to improve and reinforce those areas over the coming weeks following the conference.

– Follow-up With The Teacher

If there were specific recommendations made or referrals regarding speech, vision, hearing, medical or emotional issues we’re suggested, schedule those assessments right away.  Let the teacher know when they are occurring and fill them in on the results so they can monitor improvement.

Parent-teacher conferences are opportunities for parents and teachers alike to help make their jobs easier and more productive.  Use the tips and suggestions above to help make the evening less stressful and more productive.

The task may seem mundane and routine, but if successfully executed, reaching the ultimate goal of educational success can be sweet and fulfilling.


2 thoughts on “How To “Win” A Parent-Teacher Conference

  1. There’s a ton of good reminders here. As an addendum, one thing I’ve always done at the conclusion of every PT conference is ask this question: “What’s one thing I can do at home that would make your job easier?” It almost always takes them aback when I ask it, but I -always- get a useful answer.

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